His Sore Dilemma
1 Samuel 28
Following his local incursion upon and victory over the Amalekites, David, instead of quietly making for Ziklag, most imprudently "came to Achish" (1 Sam. 27:9). Seeing him so heavily laden with the spoils which had been taken, the king inquired where he had been. David feared to tell Achish that he had been destroying Israelís enemies and the Philistinesí friends, and therefore returned a misleading answer. David had taken precaution to cover his tracks, for we are told that he "saved neither man nor woman alive, to bring tidings to Gath, saying, Lest they should tell on us, saying, So did David, and so will be his manner all the while he dwelleth in the country of the Philistines" (27: 11). Forgetful of God and the many tokens he had already received of His protecting care, David dissembled. Achish was thoroughly deceived, for we read, "Achish believed David, saying, He hath made his people Israel utterly to abhor him; therefore he shall be my servant forever" (27: 12).
Probably it was his persuading Jonathan to tell his father that he had gone about his business, telling Ahimelech an untruth, his prevarications before Achish, and some other instances, which caused David, when later he penitently reflected upon them, to pray "Remove from me the way of lying" (Ps. 119:29). This seems to have been Davidís "besetting sin," or the particular inclination of his corrupt nature. Now when we are foiled by any sin, we should take careful pains lest we settle into a "way" or course of sinning; for as a brand which has once been in the flame is now more susceptible to fire, so the committing of any sin renders us more liable to form a habit of that evil.
Humiliating as may be the acknowledgment of it, the fact remains that every one of us needs to cry fervently unto God "Remove from me the way of lying." Because we are descended from parents who, at the beginning, preferred the devilís lie to Godís truth, we are strongly inclined unto lying; yea, it is so much a part of our fallen nature that none but God can remove it from us. How many indulge in exaggeration, which is a form of lying. How many deceive by gestures and actions, which is another form of it. How many make promises (in their letters, for example, vowing they will soon write again) which they never fulfill. Worse still, how many lie unto God by false appearances: going through the form of prayer, feigning to be very pious outwardly, when their hearts and minds are upon the things of the world. Of old God said, "Ephraim compasseth Me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit" (Hosea 11:12): God sees through all vain shows, and will not be mocked.
The consequences of Davidís lie soon became apparent. "And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men" (1 Sam. 28:1). Probably this was about the last thing he expected. Poor David! He was indeed in a tight place now, so tight that it seemed impossible for him to turn either way. On the one hand, to refuse the kingís request would not only be to run the danger of angering him, with what that would most likely entail, but would appear the height of ingratitude in return for the kindness and protection which had been given to him and his people. On the other hand, to accept Achishís proposal meant being a traitor to Israel.
This sore dilemma in which David found himself, is recorded for our learning. It is a solemn warning of what we may expect if we forsake the path of Godís precepts. If we enter upon a wrong position, then, trying and unpleasant situations are sure to ariseósituations which our consciences will sharply condemn, but from which we can see no way of escape. When we deviate from the path of duty, in the slightest degree, each circumstance that follows will tend to draw us farther aside. Once a rock starts downhill, it gains momentum with every bound that it takes. Then how watchful we need to be against the first false step; yea, how earnestly should we pray, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe" (Ps. 119:117)! Satan rests not satisfied for the Christian to yield one "little" point, and knows full well our doing so greatly lessens our resistance to his next temptations.
For the sake of younger readers, let us enlarge a little more upon this point. To go anywhere we ought not, will bring us into temptations that it will be almost impossible to resist. To seek the society of non-Christians is to play with fire, and to accept favors from them will almost certainly result in our getting burned. To compromise one point, will be followed by letting down the bars at others. For a young lady to accept the attentions of an undesirable young man, makes it far harder to reject his later advances. Once you accept a favoróeven if it be but a "joy-ride" in an autoóyou place yourself under an obligation, and though you be asked to pay a high price in return, yet if you demur, "ingratitude" is what you are likely to be charged with. Then go slow, we beg you, in accepting favors from any, especially from those who are likely to take an unfair advantage of you.
David had done wrong in seeking protection from Saul in the land of the Philistines, and now the king of Gath required service from him in return. War being determined against Israel, Achish asks the assistance of David and his men. Yes, when the Christian turns unto the world for help, he must expect to be asked to pay the worldís price for the same. Needless intimacies with the avowed enemies of godliness, and the receiving of favors from them, quickly causes us to be unfaithful to God or ungrateful to our benefactors. To what a strait had the false position of David reduced him: if he promised to fight against Israel, and then broke his word, he would be guilty of treachery; if he fought against Israel, he would alienate the affections of his own people, and expose himself to the reproach of having slain Saul. It seemed impossible that he should extricate himself from this dilemma with a good conscience and clear reputation.
"And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do" (28:2). Probably David was quite undecided how to act, and cherished a secret hope that the Lord would help him out of his great difficulty; yet this by no means excused him for returning an insincere and evasive answer. "And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head forever." The king of Gath understood his reply as a promise of effectual assistance, and so determined to make him the captain of his bodyguard. At the time David was too much swayed by the fear of man to refuse attendance upon flesh.
"Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city" (v. 3). This seems to be brought in for the purpose of intimating why the Philistines should make an attack upon Israel at this time: the knowledge of the prophetís death had probably emboldened them. When death has removed ministers of God, or persecution has banished them (as it had David), a land is deprived of its best defense. "And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land" (v. 3). This is mentioned as an introduction to what follows unto the end of the chapter: it serves to emphasize the inconstancy of Saul: it illustrates the worthlessness of the temporary reformation of professors, who ultimately return to their wallowing in the mire.
"And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled" (vv. 4, 5), Had he been in communion with God, there would be no need for such a fear, but he had provoked the Holy One to forsake him. Saulís excessive terror arose chiefly from a guilty conscience: his contempt of Samuel, his murdering the priests and their families, his malicious persecution of David. Probably he had a premonition that this attack of the Philistines foreboded his approaching doom.
"And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not" (v. 6). Unspeakably solemn is this: the case of one abandoned by God. It was under urgent terror, and not as a preparation for repentance, that Saul now sought unto the Lord. He did not "inquire" of Him till his doom was sealed, till it was too late, for God will not be mocked. O unbelieving reader, heed that call, "seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6); otherwise, God may yet say of thee, as of those of old, "These men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?" (Ezek. 14:3).
"And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not" (v. 6). Some see a contradiction between this statement and what is said in 1 Chronicles 10:13, 14, "So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking of a familiar spirit, to enquire; and enquired not of the Lord." The "literalists" of the day, those who are incapable of seeing beneath the bare letter of the Word, may well be tripped up by a comparison of the two passages; but he who is taught the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures perceives no difficulty. There is much that passes for "prayer" among men (when they are in great physical distress) which unto God is no more than the "howling" of beasts: see Hosea 7: 14. Saul "enquired" in a hypocritical manner, which the Lord would not regard at all. The ear of the Lord is open unto none save those of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
"Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor" (v. 7). Here we behold the fearful wickedness of one who was righteously abandoned by God. Fearful presumption was it for Saul to deliberately and definitely resort unto one who practiced diabolical arts. Only a little before, he had banished from the land those who had "familiar spirits" (v. 3), known today as "mediums." It illustrates the fact that apostates frequently commit those very sins which they once were most earnest in opposing. We shall not follow Saul through the remainder of this chapter, but pass on to the twenty-ninth, where the Holy Spirit continues the narrative about the Philistines and David.
"Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek; and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel. And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands; but David and his men passed on in the rereward with Achish" (29: 1, 2). "If David had told the truth, Achish would never have dreamed of enrolling him amongst the hosts of the Philistines. It was his own contrivance that had brought him there. He, who so well knew how to discriminate between the Philistines and the armies of the living God; and who, on the ground of that distinction, had so often sought and obtained the assistance of the God of Israel, now found himself leagued with the enemies of God for the destruction of Godís people. He who had so distinctly refused to stretch out his hand against the Lordís anointed, was now enrolled with those very hosts who were about to shed the blood of Saul, and of Jonathan too, upon the mountains of Gilboa. Such were the terrible circumstances in which David suddenly found himself. He seems to have looked upon them as hopeless, nor do we read of his attempting any remedy.
"But David had not ceased to be the subject of care to the great Shepherd of Israel. He had wandered, and was to be brought back. The secret providence of God again interfered, and separated him from the camp of the Philistines" (B. W. Newton). Yes, manís extremities are (so to speak) Godís opportunities, and from the dilemma out of which David could see no way of escape, He graciously extricated him; without his having to move a finger, a door was opened for his deliverance. The means which the Lord employed upon this occasion should cause us to bow in adoration before the High Sovereign over all, and deepen our trust in Him.
"Then said the princes of the Philistines, What do these Hebrews here? And Achish said unto the princes of the Philistines, is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, which hath been with me these days, or these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell unto me unto this day?" (v. 3) God has various ways of delivering His people from their difficulties. While the ungodly pursue their own purposes and follow out their own plans, God secretly influences them to such determinations as subserve the good of His saints.
The esteem and affection of the wicked often becomes snares mediate court of Achish, but lords of other principalities, who were confederates with him. These now opposed the design of Achish to use David and his men in the forthcoming battle.
"And the princes of the Philistines were wroth with him: and the princes of the Philistines said unto him, Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary to us: for wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master? should it not be with the heads of these men? Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" (29:4, 5). "Though God might justly have left David in his difficulty, to chasten him for his folly, yet because his heart was upright with Him. He would not suffer him to be tempted above what he was able, but with the temptation made a way for his escape (1 Cor. 10:13). A door was opened for his deliverance out of this strait. God inclined the hearts of the Philistine princes to oppose his being employed in this battle, and to insist upon him being dishonoured; and thus their enmity befriended him, when no friend he had was capable of doing him such a kindness" (Matthew Henry).
The esteem and affection of the wicked often become snares to us; but reproaches, contempt, injurious suspicions, prove beneficial, and the ill-usage of the ungodly by which we are driven from them, is much better for us than their friendship which knits us to them. "When worldly people have no evil to say to us, but will bear testimony to our uprightness, we need no more from them; and this we should aim to acquire by prudence, meekness, and a blameless life. But their flattering commendations are almost always purchased by improper compliances, or some measure of deception, and commonly cover us with confusion. It is seldom prudent to place great confidence in one who has changed sides, except as the fear of God influences a real convert to conscientious fidelity" (Thomas Scott). It is striking to note the particular thing which God made use of to influence those Philistine lords against David: it was the song which the women of Israel had sung in Davidís honor, and which now for the third time brought him into dishonoróso little are the flatteries of people worth! They stir up jealousy and hatred in others; yet in the hand of God it became the instrument of Davidís deliverance.
Achish now summoned David into his presence and said, Wherefore now return, and go in peace, that thou displease not the lords of the Philistines" (v. 7). No doubt David secretly rejoiced at this deliverance from his sore dilemma, yet he was unwilling that the king of Gath should know it; he prevaricated again, making an appearance of concern for being so summarily dismissed. "And David said unto Achish, But what have I done? and what hast thou found in thy servant so long as I have been with thee unto this day, that I may not go fight against the enemies of my lord the king" (v. 8). Sad it is to see the anointed of God dissembling and speaking in such a manner of His people. But Achish was not to be moved, and said, "Wherefore now rise up early in the morning with thy masterís servants that are come with thee; and as soon as ye be up early in the morning and have light, depart" (v. 10). Marvelous deliverance was this from his ensnaring service, yet without the slightest credit to David: it was nought but the sovereign grace of God which freed him from the snare of the fowler.